Midweek grind at the day job was tempered somewhat with the prospect of watching a couple of RWC matches upon my return to the manor (sorry, watched a bit of Downton Abbey for the first time) so had to reference it in today’s column. There is one game in progress but I think it is safe to say that Romania are done. Let us review the action shall we.
Scotland 45 – 10 Japan
The world’s affection for Japanese rugby was tempered somewhat this afternoon at Kingsholm when an impressive Scotland five try second half performance blew Nippon away. There will be questions on the scheduling of this fixture. Japan only realistically had two days preparation after the sensational South Africa win on Saturday. With recovery time, players needing rest, Eddie Jones realistically only had two days to prep his team for Scotland. As I say this, Japan were the ideal opponent for Scotland. Scotland were never going to be exposed by Japan’s front five and the fast paced brand of rugby that Japan play means that Scotland’s back row strengths at breakdown time would come to the fore. Japan were in this contest for the first half, a sensational kick to touch was adjudged to be fine from referee John Lacey and the subsequent lineout to the back exposed Scotland’s maul ability. Samoa and South Africa will have taken serious note. Scotland soaked up waves of Japanese pressure but their defensive line stayed intact (albeit a couple of line breaks were created by Japan). Scotland to their credit punished any Japanese indiscretions. Laidlaw’s familiarity for Kingsholm meant that Scotland were 12-7 up at the break. Cotter and management then went to work to nullify Japan in the breakdown and also exposed flaws in the Japanese inside out defensive scheme. The second half in truth was a harsh reality for Japan in terms of being punished for defensive weakness. The first Scotland try highlighted the fact, several misreads from Japan’s three quarters resulted in Scotland getting prime position just on the try line. A quick pass out to Scotland flanker Hardie and the scoreline suddenly had a completely different complexion. Scotland running lines improved rapidly after the interval and was emphasized by Mark Bennett’s first try. Bennett’s run off the shoulder was good but Richie Gray’s dummy run from deep meant that Japan had not a clue who to focus their defense on. It was a great team try as Finn Russell and Greg Laidlaw were starting to orchestrate from half back. Japan after a promising start in the second half (early three points in the bag) were now chasing the game and the Scotland third try (an interception from their ten meter line) spelled the end of the game. Scotland continued to impress in the closing stages and Bennett scored his second and his nation’s fourth with a jinxing run evading a now every tired Japanese defense. Mafi’s injury for Japan in the three quarters was a massive blow. Finn Russell’s excellent performance at half-back was awarded with a late try. Great work from Scotland at scrum-time allowing the Glasgow Warrior the platform to go over untouched. Japanese players were now exhausted. Scotland’s bonus point in the bag and thoughts of USA at the weekend. Scotland will realize that tougher tests lie ahead but Japan tested their defensive line with their uptempo brand of rugby. Scotland’s half-back options are excellent and provided that the pack can secure parity against Samoa and South Africa, aspirations of top spot in this pool are very much alive. Japan will dust themselves down, they are far from out of this pool and their game with Samoa will make or break their campaign. USA look the whipping boys at this stage of the pool.
Australia 28 – 13 Fiji
Australia and Michael Chieka in particular were very attentive during the England vs. Fiji game last Friday night. This result was built on a dominant set piece. Australia flat out destroyed Fiji in the lineout and the Fijians inability to defend the lineout was ultimately their downfall. It was too easy for Australia their first two try concessions. David Pocock will not score two easier tries in his career; his pack comprehensively repelling Fiji’s ability to hold the Australian pack’s advances after excellent lineout work. Fjii tried hard, attempted to open the game up but Australia were having none of it – kept it tight and got their rewards. It was only in the second half when the likes of Folau started to express themselves in the contest. Folau’s penetrating run on forty-five minutes set the platform for domineering Kepu to rumble in under the posts. Fjii’s fate was sealed albeit their try was gratefully received on sixty minutes. Volavola show and go was bought by everyone in yellow and green. Australia score three tries, the lack of bonus point will hardly matter with showdowns with England and Wales looming large. Chieka’s mantra was clear today; wanted to send a statement that his pack are not going to be a soft touch in this tournament. The jury is out on that statement but the signs are promising so far. Fiji destined to finish fourth in the group.
France 17 – 6 Romania (45 Minutes)
This has being an intriguing contest. Romania have dominated a nice portion of that first half but with no dominant half backs, no points on the board. Ireland will note the abrasive nature of the Romanian pack, the scrum was strong early doors but has tired in the last ten minutes. France’s tries have come from increased tempo at clear-out and exposing Romania when down to fourteen players. The Romanian prop’s sin bin was justified. The officials have being guilty of a horror call for the French first try, surely foot in touch before Guitoine touched the ball down. The second try was well worked, peppered Romania fringe defense on thirty-three minutes before Nygana scored again from the corner. Romania’s ability to game manage from ten has being damning and Ireland will look to put pressure on in this area at the weekend. Romania’s back line have had precious little to work with but the only chance they did have, they squandered (failed to ground the ball when over the France try line on eighteen minutes). France doing enough. Parra and Picamoles are the key French players in this tournament. Picamoles runs from the back of the scrum is creating the platform for all that is good for France. I am expecting a four win try for this youthful French team. How many Polynesian natives will be wearing a France jersey come full time whistle?
The man, the USA baseball legend passed away today. To end the column, I will leave you with these gems: